ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The statistics are staggering: about 57 percent of all people in North America reside in multi-housing — apartments, expensive high-rises, mobile home parks and condominiums. An estimated 95 percent of them are lost without Christ.
“Multi-housing is an arena most Southern Baptists don’t know how to get their arms around,” said Richard Harris, interim North American Mission Board president, in welcoming 15 of the most experienced leaders in multi-housing church planting and evangelism to NAMB for a two-day summit.
“You folks are all about a great need and task. Seventy-five percent of the 343 million people in North America — about 258 million — are lost, and most of them live in urban multi-housing areas. That’s where the multitudes are. You have a passion and a heart for it or you wouldn’t be here,” Harris said.
“If we could impact multi-housing, we could change the landscape of lostness in North America.”
One attendee at the summit, David Bunch, first tackled multi-housing evangelism and church planting over 20 years ago when he worked at the former Home Mission Board (NAMB’s predecessor). Bunch and another summit attendee, Barbara Oden, helped write a pioneering book on the subject, “Starting Congregations in Multi-housing.”
“It’s critical we do a better job of reaching people in multi-housing,” said Bunch, now retired and living in Atlanta. “This style of housing is not open to traditional methods of approaching people. Because of the barriers to reaching residents of multi-housing, many church leaders hesitate to approach them. …
“You just can’t go in and start knocking on doors. You can’t get mailing lists for multi-housing residents like you can for single-family dwellings. The residents are often skeptical of outsiders and may not even be open to them. After all, they live there for a reason,” Bunch said, they have “a right to live in a style that gives them safety, protection and economy.”
Bunch said he is excited that the Southern Baptist Convention is again showing interest in multi-housing ministry on a larger scale.
“Twenty years ago, the convention just didn’t embrace it. Now that North America is more urban and we’re more conscious of people groups, there’s been a resurrection of interest in how to address multi-housing,” Bunch said. “That’s evidenced by the calling of this summit conference at NAMB.
“We need to realize there are other different styles of churches that are still authentic. Out of this summit, we’re seeing and hearing examples that multi-housing churches are not only authentic, but reproducible in bringing people to Christ.”
Oden, based in Fort Worth, Texas, began as a missionary who planted a church at an apartment complex in Houston in 1986, leading to a long career in multi-housing ministry and with Bunch, co-authorship of the book. Today, she works as director of multi-housing for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Dallas Baptist Association.
“The lostness in the multi-housing world is vast,” Oden said. “We’re hoping that through this summit, we can collaborate and formulate a plan — a national plan — for all churches to do work in the multi-housing area.”
Ronnie Cox, director of multi-housing for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said he spends 80 percent of his time working with churches to provide training in multi-housing methods and recruiting multi-housing church planting teams.
“In South Carolina — as it is across the convention — multi-housing ministry and church planting is an uphill battle,” said Cox, who has ministered in multi-housing settings for 15 years. “We have to show it’s non-threatening to the church, that a church can engage a multi-housing community that is primarily lost.”
Cox said there’s no “one-size-fits-all” strategy or method when it comes to multi-housing strategy. “It can be done as a church plant, as the satellite church of a sponsoring church, or as a house church. We can’t do door-to-door evangelism in an apartment complex. Instead, we have to build relationships, start Bible studies and minister to residents individually by responding to their needs.
“It’s a long-term engagement of people,” Cox said. “We try to stress one church for one community. But there are 1,000-1,500 major multi-housing communities in South Carolina alone. One church can’t handle them all.”
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.